Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not such a glorious twelfth

I wrote most of this last year, but today would be an old friend's birthday, and it seems time to post it:

On Thursday, a group of my old friends will be meeting a few miles from where I grew up, in my (and their) beloved Forest of Dean. There will be pints, and stories, and more pints, and more stories. There will probably be laughs, and there will almost certainly be tears. Because before the pints, there will be a funeral. A funeral for our friend Tim, who, two days after his thirty-ninth birthday, set fire to his car with himself in it.

We’d been in touch recently, when Tim sent a change-of-address email. Although it was a good 5 years since we'd last met up, it was brilliant to hear from Tim, the way it often can be with people you've just run out of space to keep in your lives without meaning to lose touch. So when his birthday came around, I rattled off the “happy birthday” email with the standard blasé “thirty-nine forever” gag. Four days later, the phone call came. Nobody could really believe it.

I’ve been struggling for weeks now about whether or not to fly over for the funeral. In the end, the noes are winning, largely because of the English reserve thing. It seems entirely over the top to be swooping in from overseas when, in practice, I haven’t – shit, hadn’t – seen Tim in the last, what, six years? And so although it'll be in my mind all day, it seems better to stay put.

This group of friends has remained essentially bonded for 30 years that I’ve been witness to and several more before. And they were a huge, huge part of my formative years.

This is the struggle in terms of whether or not to attend the funeral. I may not have seen Tim – seen any of them – very much recently, but they meant the world to me at a time when my world was just starting to expand. I learned liking for liking's sake, and I learned fun, and I learned not to take myself so fucking seriously. Clearly that’s not a message that sank in very deeply, but hey.

Because of the less-intense-contact more recently, all my memories of Tim are from about 20 years ago. Just out of his teens, dancing to the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”: head down, arms at his side, all the rhythm coming from shoulders. If I ever hear the song on the radio, I dance like Tim – can’t help it. Tim Watson, with the fabulous, freakish memory for trivia.

Tim, who stepped off the cliff the day we went home-made abseiling, only to find the brake wasn’t on the rope. A roar went up from those of us lying flat on our fronts on the surrounding cliffs, a plea to the “anchor guy” at the bottom: “BRAKE!!!!!!” And Neil, steady as ever, leaned into the ropes or did whatever the hell it was he needed to do, and Tim’s speedy descent came to an abrupt halt.

Tim, coming up with the rest of the gang to visit me in Cambridge, penniless, but with a wealth of one-liners that conned us into buying him the pints all the same.

And to go along with the memories my mind streams a photo, taken in 1989 at a friend’s 18th birthday party, when we were all invincible .Tim channeling James Dean: on a step, cigarette drooping from mouth. Leather jacket, long dark hair…and a pair of sneakers on his knees for reasons that escape us. Who knew it would become a way to remember him, 20 years later?

Happy 40th, Tim Watson. Wish you were here for it.

1 comment:

Rebecca Emin said...

Oh Sarah, this is so sad. How awful that he felt the need to do that... and even more awful for those of you left behind.